Accidents waiting to happen

Report shows local intersections among state’s most dangerous

By Emily Sweeney
Globe Staff / November 15, 2009

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Brockton drivers know the busy intersection by the Westgate Mall all too well. They have to battle traffic coming off Route 24. There are cars trying to enter and exit the mall parking lot. Vehicles dart in and out of the nearby gas station on Pleasant Street, while others jockey for position to make the turn onto Route 27.

“It’s just a mess,’’ said Brockton Police Chief William K. Conlon.

Over a period of three years, there were 96 crashes at that intersection - one of them fatal - making it one of the most dangerous in the state, according to the Massachusetts Highway Department’s Top 200 High Crash Intersection Locations Report.

Intersections in Stoughton, Quincy, Weymouth, Braintree, Raynham, Abington, and Middleborough also ranked high on the state’s list.

The report, which was released in July, is much more than a lurid compilation of places prone to fender-benders. State officials are using it as a road map to plan construction projects and make changes that will make roads safer.

“Safety is our top concern,’’ said Adam Hurtubise, spokesman for the Highway Division of MassDOT (the agency formerly known as MassHighway), in an e-mail. “Mas sachusetts has the safest highways in the nation, but we are constantly looking at ways to improve safety. Analyzing this crash data allows us to identify roadways and intersections that may benefit from safety improvements.’’

How can safety be improved? Any number of measures can be taken: Roadways can be widened. Turning lanes can be added. Traffic lights can be installed. Signals can be timed differently. Right-turns-on-red can be restricted. Pavement markings can be modified. Signs can be put up. Lighting can be improved. Medians can be raised. And so on.

To compile the report, the state analyzed crashes that occurred at intersections from 2005 to 2007. (It focused on intersections only; rotaries, ramps, and interchanges were not included.) The data came from the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, which collects information from motorists involved in accidents and from police reports. The locations were ranked by the number of crashes, and the injuries and fatalities that resulted.

State officials say the data are not perfect; accident reporting levels can vary from community to community, and inconsistencies in roadway names makes pinpointing crash locations difficult. But the report does provide a general snapshot of where crashes are happening, so engineers can make changes to prevent future accidents.

The latest report identified several intersections south of Boston as high-crash locations. One such intersection is the junction of Route 123 and Manley Street in Brockton, which is close to the on- and off-ramps for Route 24. A Mobil gas station is located on the corner.

“A lot of people heading toward Easton on 123, they want to make a left turn at that light,’’ said Conlon. “There is now a left turn arrow; there hadn’t been for some time. Even still, it doesn’t give you a long time to make that turn, then there’s traffic coming at you from the highway. Sometimes people stop and wave you through, but the other cars can’t see that, and then whack. That has been a problem.’’

Conlon said that adjusting the timing on the signals might help.

Other factors contribute to collisions. With so many crashes occurring at signal intersections in Brockton, Conlon said, “that indicates to me that people are running red lights.’’

Legislation is pending on Beacon Hill that would allow municipalities to install cameras at intersections to catch red-light runners more easily. The bill was filed by state Senator Joan M. Menard, a Fall River Democrat, and state Representative Kevin G. Honan, a Boston Democrat. The idea of cameras nabbing red-light violators has won the support of police chiefs across the state, as well as Governor Deval Patrick.

Conlon recently testified at the State House on behalf of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs association in support of it. “It’s really needed,’’ said Conlon. “People do run a lot of red lights, and we just don’t have manpower to effectively watch it.’’

Conlon continued: “It’s not efficient to sit in a marked car. Because people don’t do it when you sit there.’’ And when people do, the police cruiser must go through the red light as well in order to pull the offending car over, he said. “It’s not a safe thing.’’

Red-light detection cameras would be activated only when the signals turn red in that direction, explained Conlon. Vehicles that proceed after the light turns red would have their license plate recorded and receive a ticket in the mail. (The process is similar to what happens when motorists go through a Fast Lane on the Mass Pike without paying.) Red-light monitoring systems are already in place in New York, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Tennessee, Texas, and Arizona, according to Conlon.

Meanwhile, the notorious intersection by the Westgate Mall is being completely reconfigured using federal stimulus money, according to Conlon. The junction of Route 27, Pleasant Street, West Street, and Westgate Drive is being rebuilt, lanes will be widened, and new traffic lights will be put in.

“Hopefully, that will alleviate that situation,’’ said Conlon. “It’s been a real thorn.’’

To download a copy of the state’s Top High Crash Locations Report, visit The next edition of the state’s high-crash intersection report, which will include crash data from 2008, is due to be released in early 2010.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at